In the early days of the AP poll, Black schools like Tennessee State were excluded, raising questions about the impact of racial segregation and their potential in basketball.
The Overlooked Dominance of Tennessee State
Between 1956 and 1959, Tennessee State’s men’s basketball team had an impressive run, winning three consecutive national titles in the NAIA and producing NBA players and a future All-Star. Despite this, they were never featured in the AP poll.
The Influence of AP Polls and NCAA Division I Membership
The AP poll has a history of picking the best Division I teams. However, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were often excluded, as they were considered part of the ‘college division’ and were not included in the polling.
Challenges Faced by Black Schools
Racial segregation and restrictive NCAA membership bylaws played a major role in excluding Black schools from the AP poll and the recognition they deserved. This left a lingering question of ‘what if?’ regarding the potential ranking and performance of HBCU teams.
Legacy of Coaches and Players
Legendary coaches and players from Black schools like Tennessee State and Norfolk State, such as John McLendon, Bob Dandridge, and Willis Reed, have left a significant impact on the sport of basketball despite the lack of recognition during their college careers.
Continued Impact and Recognition
Despite the historical omission, there is a growing effort to acknowledge the greatness of HBCU basketball and ensure their legacy is not overlooked in the broader discussions of the best teams and players in college basketball history.